Magenta for Me, How About You?

Tmobile_clueless

Mobile phone service is excellent in China. In fact, every visit back to the US, I would count my blessings that I did not have a phone here. I usually found it challenging to hear the person on the other end of the call, not to mention wonder why there would be so many dead spots, even in the middle of a city. I wondered how America was so far behind the rest of the world. I was used to great mobile service coverage from the depths of the Beijing subway to the heights of the Himalayas in places like Tiger Leaping Gorge (even in 2004). Wasn’t China still in the “third world” 10 years ago?  

Having returned to the US last spring with the intention of spending a bit more quality time here, while I immensely enjoyed life without a US phone number, I ultimately had to explore contract options from the various players in the wireless carrier market.

And from the start, T-Mobile blew me away.

My first experience was in the Flatiron district of New York City. I had a day in the city, was meeting a friend in the area, and happened upon an AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon store all in close proximity to each other.

When it came to the difference in store environment and service experience, it was like night and day. AT&T and T-Mobile stores were bright and full of energy – both their physical space and their staff. And living an international life, it was hard for me to imagine signing up for a multi-year contract with a service that would not allow me to switch SIM cards.

As I was about to spend the next few months in Hawaii, I was not ready to commit to a plan, but the person I spoke to at T-Mobile was super helpful. He was happy to help me, but thought the folks in Hawaii would be in a better position. The person at AT&T was great too, though I found myself waiting in a pretty big line.

Lines aside, when it came down to it, I was uncertain how long I would need my plan for, did not need a contract and was going to get more for my money to choose T-Mobile over AT&T. Why pay an extra $10 per month just for fun?

Upon arrival in Hawaii, several folks in my cohort were interested in phone plans and I shared my recent learnings with them. A group of us embarked on an adventure to find the closest T-Mobile store to campus.

Shopping for a cell phone plan with my new international friends, I was having much more fun with this than I ever would have imagined. While they thought it was helpful to have an American with them to navigate the scene, I wondered if I was really that useful. Sure, thanks to all the aggressive advertising done by these companies (especially during football games during winter holidays), I could never have forgotten who the general players were in this mobile carrier space. But at the same time, I felt like a foreigner as much as they did.

My first big thanks goes to Brinton from the T-Mobile shop in Honolulu where we signed up for our family plan. While the basics of the T-Mobile service are pretty much a no-brainer, he was an enormous help and took the time needed to answer all of our questions (which extended a good deal past the store’s 8PM closing time).

Last month when our family was set to head in a variety of directions and ready to break-up, I spoke with a couple folks on the phone, and another super knowledgeable sales rep at the same Honolulu retail store.

Back in Upstate NY for the holidays, and hearing about the cell phone bills my mom and sister were racking up on their own individual plans, I thought it might be a good idea to share some of my super experiences with T-Mobile. Maybe we could take our actual family status and update to a family plan with the same wireless carrier?

My mom has had the same phone for a handful of years. We thought that meant it would be easy to switch as she was already out of contract. Turns out these days T-Mobile Offers to Pay Everyone Else’s Termination Fees. The big question was whether her phone (see photos below) would be usable on the T-Mobile network or if she would need to upgrade to a smarter phone.

The experience we had with Bobby at the 18 Wolf Road T-Mobile store was so good that I felt compelled to share my customer experience over the past five months. Bobby is super knowledgeable in all things T-Mobile, direct, and has a great sense of humor. He was not only extremely helpful , but we had a great time while in the store. And aside from the great deal on family plans, it turns out small business customers get some pretty stellar service – a few bells and whistles beyond all the uncarrier perks that normal folks and family-planners enjoy.

And just around 6PM, as we were just about to wrap up, Bobby shared with us, hot off the press, the new break-up deals that have taken over the interwebs these past couple days. Pretty unbelievable. While my sister is already a T-Mobile customer, looks like some strong incentives for my Dad to say goodbye to Verizon.

Back in Honolulu, I walked out of the store back in August thinking T-Mobile was leading a mobile wireless revolution. I thought it unbelievable to learn last month you could text, for free, from 100 countries back to the US, which came online just two months after I had signed-up. Now it looks like something mind-bending is happening every three months. I wonder how long this can last?

Over the past day or so, it’s been interesting to explore the past couple years in T-Mobile history and how big magenta has started to create the disruption it has over the past year plus. I’ve enjoyed the evolving story as told by Sascha Segan from PCMag. Most of the articles below are his.

T-Mobile Offers to Pay Everyone Else’s Termination Fees (1/8/14)

Exclusive: T-Mobile CTO Talks Carrier’s Journey to Fastest LTE Network (1/6/14)

6 Reasons Sprint Shouldn’t Buy T-Mobile (12/13/13)

T-Mobile Cuts the Bulls**t, But Can it Win Customers? (3/27/13)   

T-Mobile Names Former Global Crossing Chief as New CEO (9/19/12)

T-Mobile CEO John Legere‘s Twitter feed is also worth a gander.

At this point, T-Mobile has very clearly stated their vision for the future of their industry and “the other guys” are almost making it hard for people to not switch. Also, the “Break Up Letter” campaign is more than a little funny.

Tmobile_breakupletter

And I’ll close with an interesting post by a guy named Louis Grey that I stumbled upon yesterday. At the time of writing in November of last year, it appeared that the question he put forth, “Are the Big Phone Carriers ‘Good Enough’ These Days” was logical enough. I wonder what an update of that article looks like in a week or two? How about November 2014?

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Answering a Question with a Question

question_brandon_kauffman

This past week, we had an enjoyable session with Professor Mikinari Higano on active learning. You might surmise from the title of this post that his class focused on questions.

Professor Higano is the founder and director of the Business Leadership Program at Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan. I love that when he’s not focused on the leadership art of asking questions he plays tennis, cooks Italian food, and travels around Europe.

I’ve always been a pretty big fan of questions. A previous version of myself liked to say things like, “questions are more important than answers.” And with all the conversation these days about the importance of questions, I’ve needed to re-examine how I view, think about, and formulate questions.

The exercise we went through with Professor Higano was smack in the middle of where the simple meets the complex. Basically, think of a question. A problematic question, that is. I urge you to try based on the same criteria we were given:

(1) It must directly affect you (e.g., problems that bother your friend only, no matter how serious they may be, are not appropriate for our purpose);

(2) You must be seeking a solution to the problem immediately (e.g., if you are looking to find a solution over a span of a year or longer, that problem wouldn’t be appropriate);

(3) You must feel comfortable sharing and discussing the problem with the other members (e.g., “having a hard time to find a good date” may be a serious problem and you might be seeking an immediate solution, but if you feel uncomfortable discussing such a topic with peers and teachers, that’s not appropriate);

(4) The problem’s solution must be within a reasonable reach; that is, the problem must not be too grandiose or big in scale (e.g., don’t say you’re looking for a solution to change a country or other similarly great problems of the world);

(5) At the same time, the problem must be complex enough so that you do not see an obvious solution (e.g., problems such as “I’m having a hard time to get out of the bed in the morning” or “I always find myself procrastinating while I’m at work” have obvious solutions and therefore, they are not appropriate); and

(6) Do not try to come up with “interesting” or “funny” problems. In fact, humorous problems discussing which makes it hard for the seminar attendants to keep straight faces have nothing but negative effects on the class.

Given the array of conditions noted above, you might as well wonder what problem is appropriate; nonetheless, most if not all people who are living serious lives do have lots of problems that are highly appropriate to bring. Such problems involve a number of stakeholders with various, maybe mutually contradictory interests (e.g., a solution may satisfy Person A, but it will upset Person B, etc.), and therefore, you are struggling to disentangle the problem and find the best solution.

If any of you are not sure if the problem you’re going to bring is proper or not, even after you read carefully my instructions and check your problem, you are welcome to ask me. It is important because the performance of the sessions, especially in the earlier phases, is affected by the properness of the problem.

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I will likely share with you the question I chose in a future post, but, for the moment, really, take a moment and think about yours.

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When we arrived in class, armed with our questions, only two of us actually had the chance to participate this time around. Going through the process, led by our table’s emerging expert facilitators, Anusha and Promotosh, we spent 50 minutes each to dissect the problem of two classmates.

I had two main takeaways:

The first – while I love asking questions, it can be hard to only ask questions in response to anything anyone says. Now, the problem presenters (as they were called) could share insight with us based on the questions we asked them, but the rest of us participants were required to use questions to move the discussion along.

And you know what? There was an interesting energy around the discussion that I had not quite considered before. Many people like to tell it how it is: to share their knowledge, their perspective, to give advice. And what if we did all that, by communicating this knowledge, perspective, or advice via a question?

The second – the first problem presenter lamented her lack of participation. She found it challenging to speak up, to ask questions, to be an active part of conversations, especially in larger groups. And she wanted to explore why.

Now, in the second session, I think her question was probably the most important question of the entire 50 minute discussion. While I can’t remember the exact question now, I do remember how I felt when she asked and the conversation shifted.

And now that we have the takeaways, where is the action involved?

1 – next time you are in a conversation, what would it be like to reformulate a follow-up comment into a follow-up question?

2 – in a small to larger group setting, by always keeping your questions inside, might you be depriving others the opportunity of hearing a conversation-altering question?

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In searching images based on “answer a questions with a question”, I didn’t come up with much that struck me on Google images. Further exploring through a “question design” query, I made my way to something designed by Brandon Kauffman here on logogala.com. It looks like Brandon has more of his updated work on his self-addressed site here.